Every political party and every politician will tell you that they believe in the principle of equal pay for men and women.

But when you challenge that principle in practice it becomes a different story. Protecting the mens’ wages comes first, saving money comes second and the rights of the women come a distant last.

We are about to find out if that charge still sticks as today’s Court of Session ruling means that GCC faces a bill that could run into hundreds of millions of pounds purely because they have for over a decade set their face against resolving these issues with us on an amicable basis.

To understand how we got into this mess you have to go back over 30 years. In the 1980s all local councils agreed a new job evaluation scheme (JES) for manual workers covering all jobs done mainly by men such as refuse, gardening and road workers and all mainly female jobs such as catering, cleaning and caring.

This meant a home carer was graded the same as the driver of a refuse lorry. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with this scoring, what matters is that all the employers and the unions did so.

This meant that legally these two jobs should have been paid the same. By 2005 the nationally agreed rate for the job was about £11,000 and that what the women were paid, but because of automatic bonuses the men were getting anything paid up to £21,000.

The council now agrees that this was wrong and the women were therefore entitled to be paid the same £21,000. Did they? Err no.

Instead the council terminated the old pay arrangement and imposed a new pay structure.

Now this in itself was not unusual, indeed there was a nationally agreed scheme agreed with the unions to enable this to be put in place. But Glasgow City Council refused to follow the national agreement.

It decided to go it alone and create its own JES scheme. On top of that the council promised the men that they would protect their old earnings but refused to give the same protection to the women.

What did this mean in practice? It meant that instead of being paid the same as a man doing a job which has been of equal value for 20 years the council downgraded the women and gave them new salary still much less than the men.

Net result was that women had an effective pay cut of over £5,000. To rub salt into the wounds they also took away the womens’ right to overtime pay and other enhancements. Guess who kept those rights? Yes the former bonus earning men. This is supposed to be an equal opportunities employer!

We have challenged all these decisions. At the same time we urged the council to resolve these cases by agreement. They refused instead gambling that their lawyers advice was better than ours. They have now lost that bet.

The Court of Session in two decisions this year held, first, that the women were entitled to the same protection as the men but even more importantly that the council had failed to prove that its JES scheme was valid under the Equal Pay Act , the now nearly half century old legislation designed to make sure men and women’s labour is valued equally, and not tainted with discrimination. The council will either have to go back to the drawing board or let the tribunal do it for them. In the meantime the women have been paid anything up to £6000 a year less than men doing jobs which were of equal value. So will thecouncil now agree to pay these women equally or will they find another excuse? We’ll wait and see.

Stefan Cross QC is a Newcastle-based lawyer for the Action 4 Equality group.